In a new statement on the ongoing Pan-Amazon Synod of Bishops in Rome, Cardinal Walter Brandmüller – a respected Church historian and one of the two remaining dubia cardinals – warns against the replacement of the Catholic faith by “a pantheistic natural religion of man.”
With regard to the Amazon Synod’s working document (Instrumentum Laboris), the German cardinal makes it clear that it is essentially eclipsing all of the Church’s magisterial documents from the Second Vatican Council onward, while nearly exclusively relying on quotations from a regional episcopal conference, the Latin American Conference of Bishops in Aparecida, Brazil, in 2007. Here, he warns against a “spectacular breach with the dogmatically binding tradition.”
After explaining the Catholic faith’s nature as a religion based on God’s revelation to man, Brandmüller points out that “the frightening question arises whether the protagonists of this synod are not more concerned with the attempt secretly to replace religion as man’s answer to the call of its Creator by a pantheistic natural religion of man – namely, by a new variant of Modernism from the beginning of the 20th century.” And the German prelate draws a line to the warnings of Holy Scripture concerning the end times, saying: “It is difficult not to think of the eschatological texts of the New Testament!”
Here, the prelate insists that it is Jesus Christ who “brings the final Revelation,” as it can be found in Holy Scripture and Sacred Tradition passed on by “the community of disciples chosen by Jesus Christ, out of which the Church grew.”
“All this has happened once and for all and is universally valid with regard to space and time.” In this light, the idea of an “Amazonian Church” is not Catholic.
Says the German cardinal: “But this means, with regard to our concrete problem of the ‘Amazon Synod,’ that the facts as described above exclude a concept of religion which has some kind of geographical or temporary limits. But that means that also an Amazonian Church is theologically unthinkable. It is the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic (and therefore Roman) Church to whom the transmission of the Gospel and the transmission of Christ’s grace to all peoples of all times have been entrusted and to whom the light and strength of God’s Spirit is promised for the fulfillment of this mission.”
Brandmüller also observes, “The fact that this break is, so to speak, being put into action in an ‘underhanded’ fashion, i.e., in a hidden and secretive manner, is all the more disturbing. The method practiced here, however, follows the model of ‘Amoris Laetitia,’ where the attempt to cancel out the doctrine of the Church is to be found in the now much-discussed footnote 351.”
The German prelate ends his statement with a call to the synod fathers and Pope Francis himself: “Now it is up to the assembled bishops of the Amazon Synod – and finally to Pope Francis – whether such a break with the Church’s constitutive tradition constitutive can happen despite the inevitable, dramatic consequences.”
Below is the full statement by Cardinal Brandmüller:
What is at stake: It is not about the Amazon, but, rather, about everything
By Cardinal Walter Brandmüller
It would be a fatal error to think that the promoters of the current Synod of Bishops were truly concerned only about the well-being of the indigenous tribes of the Amazon forests. They are, rather, obviously being instrumentalized in order to push an agenda which concerns the Universal Church and which has its roots largely in the 19th century.
What is here at stake is not more and is not less than the Catholic Faith, the Judeo-Christian Faith plain and simple. First, one here has to ask the decisive, fundamental question: “What is religion anyway?”
It is nearly uncontested that “religion” is an essential element of human existence. However, it is not clear at all – or generally known – what it means. There exist answers to that very question that are quite contradictory. In its essence, the question is whether religion is either the result of human attempts to preserve and manage one’s own existence – that it to say, as a human-cultural product – or whether it is to be understood otherwise.
In the first case, religion stems from the reflection on the experience of existential depths of the person, that is to say his finality. But that means that religion is nothing else but man’s encounter with himself. This then also would be the consequence of the cult of reason as promoted by the Enlightenment. Here now – and we remember Rousseau – the ideal of the “noble savage” appears, in contrast to the enlightened European autonomous thinker.
Religion as an encounter with one’s self is an understanding of religion which indeed has considerable consequences, inasmuch as the developments in a person’s life necessarily can bring forth changes, if not contradictions, of such “religious” experiences. Here, then, also the notion of evolution comes in, which means that, along with the progression of human development, there takes place also a development of the religious (self-) awareness. As a result, changing new insights may then exceed and replace insights that were earlier gained. Thus, it can lead to a step backwards – but a step which is seen as progress – a falling behind the culture of Europe, as in the case of the Amazon.
The history of the Judeo-Christian religion stands here in sharp contrast to this notion of religion as self-realization of man.
When Jews and Christians speak of religion – with its forms of expressions in doctrine, morals, and cult – then they mean the way and manner with which man responds to a extra- or supra-worldly reality which comes to him from outside. In plain language, it is about man’s response to the Creator’s self-communication-revelation to His creature, man. This is an actual dialogical event between God and man.
God speaks – in whatever form – and man gives an answer. It is a dialogue. The religious concept of Modernism, on the other hand, means a monologue: man remains alone with himself.
This dialogical event started with God’s calling upon man, as the history of the people of Israel testifies.
God’s address to His chosen people took place in the course of an eventful history that, at each step, led to a higher level. The Letter to the Hebrews begins with the words: “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by a Son.” The Gospel of St. John calls this Son the Incarnate Word of the Eternal God. He is and He brings the final Revelation, which can be found in written form in the biblical books and in the authentic oral tradition of the community of disciples chosen by Jesus Christ, out of which the Church grew. All this has happened once and for all and is universally valid with regard to space and time.
But this means, with regard to our concrete problem of the “Amazon Synod,” that the facts as described above exclude a concept of religion which has some kind of geographical or temporary limits. But that means that also an Amazonian Church is theologically unthinkable. It is the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic (and therefore Roman) Church to whom the transmission of the Gospel and the transmission of Christ’s Grace to all peoples of all times have been entrusted and to whom the light and strength of God’s Spirit is promised for the fulfillment of this mission.
She [the Church] lives up to this mission – with the help of the Holy Spirit – by fulfilling her magisterial and her pastoral ministry throughout history.
This having been made clear from the outset, an almost alarming observation has now to be pointed out. The “Instrumentum Laboris” of the Synod contains – apart from just five rather marginal quotations – no reference whatsoever to Councils and the Papal Magisterium. Particularly spectacular is the total absence of Vatican II (apart from two rather marginal references). The fact that such important and thematically relevant documents as the Decree on the Mission Activity of the Church, “Ad Gentes” – quite apart from the Major Constitutions on the Liturgy, Revelation and the Church – are at no point quoted, is simply incomprehensible. The same applies to the post-conciliar Magisterium and the important encyclicals.
This ignoring of the doctrinal tradition of the Church – and the fact that, in its place, almost exclusively the Latin American Synod of Aparecida of the year 2007 is quoted – can only be understood as a spectacular break with previous history. Moreover, this quasi absolutizing of this assembly [of Aparecida] also raises the question of the Latin American understanding of ecclesial Communio on the universal level.
Finally, let us consider, in passing, an open contradiction in the Instrumentum Laboris concerning the Decree on the Mission Activity of the Church, Ad Gentes. This Decree states (No. 12) that the Church in no way (nullo modo!) wishes to intrude into the politics (namely, the politics of the mission countries) and therefore does not claim any worldly authority. This is a clear statement of a conciliar document, which, however, is diametrically opposed by large parts of the Instrumentum Laboris.
In short: the authors of the “Instrumentum Laboris” ignore the Second Vatican Council and – as mentioned – all of the documents of the post-conciliar Magisterium interpreting the Council. But this means – as also already mentioned – a break with the dogmatically binding tradition. Actually also with the universality of the Church. The fact that this break is, so to speak, being put into action in an “underhanded” fashion, i.e., in a hidden and secretive manner, is all the more disturbing.
The method practiced here, however, follows the model of “Amoris Laetitia,” where the attempt to cancel out the doctrine of the Church is to be found in the now much-discussed footnote 351.
Looking back now on what has been said, it may have become clear that the disputes over the Amazon Synod are only very superficially about the indigenous population of the Amazon which is itself quite small in numbers.
Rather, the frightening question arises whether the protagonists of this synod are not more concerned with the attempt secretly to replace religion as man’s answer to the call of its Creator by a pantheistic natural religion of man – namely, by a new variant of Modernism from the beginning of the 20th century. It is difficult not to think of the eschatological texts of the New Testament!
Now it is up to the assembled bishops of the Amazon Synod – and finally to Pope Francis himself – whether such a break with the Church’s constitutive tradition can come to happen despite the inevitable, dramatic consequences.
The remarks of Pope Francis about the expected fate of the “Instrumentum Laboris” – can they awaken hope?
Translation by LifeSite’s Dr. Maike Hickson.
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